WASHINGTON—As American troops stand poised for an assault on Baghdad, the season's first spate of 100-degree weather could have an impact on combat operations in central Iraq.
For the first time since last fall, the weather forecast is for triple digits Saturday and maybe Sunday in the areas where tens of thousands of U.S. troops are concentrated.
That could make life hell for soldiers and Marines cooking in their armored vehicles. But the military predicts no significant slowdown in ground action.
"If you have to get into your (chemical) gear, it is going to be detrimental to combat operations," said Army Lt. Col. Gary Keck, a spokesman at the Pentagon for U.S. Central Command.
"If you have to stay buttoned up in your tank, it is going to affect operations," he said.
"But is it going to have an impact that is significant or makes any difference? In my humble opinion, the answer is no," he said. "I can tell you that soldiers deal with heat very well."
The troops, who usually need 4 gallons of water a day each for drinking and washing from their helmets, may need 6 to 7 gallons on a 100-degree day. But Keck said tanker trucks—even heavy-lift helicopters, in some cases—were delivering adequate water to the front lines.
Having marched 250 miles into Iraq from Kuwait, U.S. troops so far have encountered daytime weather in the 80s and 90s. The worst obstacle hasn't been heat but a huge sandstorm that slowed down combat for two or three days.
Military analysts suggested over the winter that if the United States and its allies invaded Iraq, it would help to do so before the onset of the nearly continuous 100-degree weather that begins in spring and runs into October.
Todd Miner, a meteorologist who tracks Iraq weather from Pennsylvania State University, said Saturday would bring a burst of unseasonably warm weather to the whole Middle East.
Then overnight, the troops will get some relief, he said. Temperatures should drop into the 60s in Baghdad, a city of nearly 5 million people. In rural areas, the overnight lows could be in the 50s.
Come Monday and Tuesday, daytime highs should fall back into the 80s and 90s, Miner said.
Official military forecasts are classified.
"We just don't want the adversary to know what we know. ... It's intelligence, really," said Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Frooninckx, who is in charge of weather forecasting for the combat zone.
Frooninckx, who heads a team of more than 200 forecasters at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, said teams of Air Force weather observers were working in Iraq with Army units. The Marines also have forecasters.
The teams sometimes use weather balloons to get high-altitude wind information. They also take ordinary barometric and temperature readings, then report their findings to Shaw by a secure Internet connection.
Frooninckx said that the better the military could predict the weather, the better it could prepare for it.
"Hot weather is going to affect operations by affecting the human body," he said. "How well the individual is going to perform is a function of those elements."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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